There are moments, experiences, that completely change the way you think about someone. They aren’t necessarily significant in and of themselves but they just… just go so fundamentally against the way you picture the other person, that image you hold in the back of your head about them, that things have to change.
When Liz was six, maybe seven, her mother had come to pick her up from daycare. She’d been playing alone on the top of a jungle gym. It wasn’t late-late but most of the other kids had already left and Liz had been feeling a bit lonely. She was so happy when her mom came up to her that she’d just leapt off the metal bars and into her mother’s arms.
The impact was enough to knock her mother onto her back. Liz fell with her but wasn’t hurt, safe in her mother’s embrace. She didn’t even realize anything was wrong for a few moments. Her mom hadn’t answered any of her questions, stupid childish things that she couldn’t even remember now, just made a little pained noise when her back hit the ground.
The tears in the corner of her mother’s eyes… That sight was still one of the most terrifying things she could remember. She’d been fine. Liz hadn’t done anything more than stun her mom and knock the wind out of her, but she’d still… Her mom wasn’t perfect. She could be hurt. Liz hadn’t even realized that was possible for any grown up, much less her parents. It was scary. It changed things.
Held in Hector’s too-strong arms, the armor on his chest and forearms pressing in against her, Liz looked out over the city and saw Hector. Everywhere she looked, turning her head carefully to keep the wind out of her eyes, she saw streams of Hector in his black and white uniform rising slowly into the sky and arcing towards the hospital.
It seemed like they were moving so slow… but that was only the scale. She could hear the wind screaming all around her and, even cradled as protectively as she was, the little changes in direction that Hector was making hurt. There were so many of him. The streams just went on and on and some part of her was expecting them to end even though she knew that they wouldn’t unless he decided they should and…
He was swarming over the hospital. It was like some kind of reverse rain, drops of Hectors coming up from the ground to gather into a cloud above the building, slowly turning and… It was incredible. He’d told her about his power, what he could do and what some of his limits were. Liz had thought she was as used to it as she could be.
She didn’t bother calling him when she wanted to talk, just looked around to find one of him nearby. There was always at least one. He’d nearly died in front of her. When she’d been attacked, he’d come running from more than one direction and saved her, caught the man who hurt her. She’d thought she had some idea but this…
Her boyfriend was a force of nature.
Liz curled in a bit, letting him hold her more easily while he took her to safety. The wind was enough to stop them from talking for now but, when they got wherever he was taking her, she’d find out what the hell was going on, why he was going to war. Then she’d figure out what she needed to do to help him.
Hard to think. So many angles to keep in mind. A stray shot and he could hurt someone. If he took out the wrong part of one of the nearby buildings Hector could hurt a lot of someones. Other hims darted in and out, looking for more lines of sight, getting closer to fire then retreating to safety while checking to make sure their copies of the weapon were still working.
There were so many, he- he couldn’t keep it all straight. Hector fired again and again. The horrible patchwork people disappeared, or pieces of them did, or the hospital behind them did. He was being so careful, but…
If he got too close to one of the Skinthief duplicates, Hector burned and died. If he Hector changed direction too quickly, the gel in his black bodysuit couldn’t cushion him. Bones broke, joints separated and he died. Sometimes it was as simple as a broken neck, other times he lost concentration from the pain of an injury and collided with the hospital or the street.
Someone was trying to talk to him, shaking his shoulder and shouting. They were… where were they? The control room? He…
Hector shook his head, paying no attention as a few of him died from the motion. He had to concentrate. Skinthief healed, not with the instantaneous reset Jason used but still, it was far too fast. Hectors’ weapon was a Richard type’s failed attempt at a teleporter, an irreplaceable, irreproducible disintegrator. Jason needed him, was somewhere nearby. There, on the ground. Hector approached and picked his fallen friend up as carefully as he could.
He held Liz close, shielding her from the cold air and the biting wind as best he could and concentrated. Too sharp a turn and the force could hurt her, kill her. There was only one of her and he couldn’t make more. Hector had to get her out of the warzone Phoenix was about to turn into.
The sirens went off, telling everyone they were in danger. Cell phones and TVs and radios told everyone to run or to hide and where they had to be or where they had to leave. Hector tried to help them, show people where to go and what but he couldn’t keep them straight, kept forgetting where he was. He gave it up and let the system take over. Analysis could update that and he turned to see who was shouting at him.
Hector blinked, slow and hard to try and reset, figure out what was happening. “Can’t- I can’t keep track.” he said and slid out of his chair, making room for one of the other Analysts to take over. He had to concentrate on the stuff that only he could do. Flying through a window to get into the hospital and raising his arm to destroy the patchwork monster that’s standing there and then he’s burning and can’t think and it hurts but he has to do what he can.
The smuggler can keep her safe, get her out of here. Hector hadn’t finished the investigation, didn’t know everything. The man had some kind of power, could travel further and faster than he should have been able to. More importantly, he was safe while he was travelling and so was his cargo. He had to keep Jason safe. His friend needed him so Hector was taking him to the police station.
He charged down to the hospital, towards windows and doors and anything he could think of but everywhere he went Skinthief was already there and when he got too close he burned. Hector had to keep trying but he didn’t understand. Why was this so hard? He couldn’t… couldn’t keep track and Hector could always keep track. And… why wasn’t he dead? He… he kept burning but that wasn’t what Jason did. Jason didn’t burn he just killed and Skinthief hadn’t done that to him yet. That should matter, should be important but Hector couldn’t think of why.
What… what was wrong with him?